David Ly is the author of the chapbook Stubble Burn and Mythical Man is his debut full-length collection. His poems have appeared in publications such as The Puritan, PRISM, carte blanche, The Maynard, The Temz Review, and Arc Poetry Magazine. He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, long-listed for the Thomas Morton Memorial Prize in Poetry, and short-listed for both Pulp Literature's Magpie Award and The Malahat Review's Open Season Awards. David is the Poetry Editor of This Magazine and sits on the Editorial Collective of Anstruther Press. Twitter @dlylyly.
1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
I’m not totally sure how my chapbook Stubble Burn changed my life. I think I was just more excited that a press wanted to publish my work lol. I was sort of testing the waters when writing those poems, kind of just playing around. But I guess Stubble Burn helped me gain some confidence – helped me see that I could actually “write poetry.”
Mythical Man definitely feels bigger than Stubble Burn. There’s definitely an expansion on the themes, motifs, and storytelling established in my chapbook. I feel like the poems in Mythical Man have more room to breathe as they can fit into a larger narrative, so I guess in that sense, the work feels pretty different than the chapbook.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I needed one more course credit to complete my Creative Writing Certificate in undergrad, and the only course left was a poetry one lol. Before that I never really invested any effort into reading, understanding, or being taught poetry as I felt it was always out of my reach of comprehension. So I always wrote short fiction to exercise my creative writing because it gave me the room to indulge my imagination.
It wasn’t until taking poetry classes in undergrad and being taught be poets that I began to understand that the genre can still be used to tell stories. I grew to like the constraints of poetry (most of the times, ones I put on myself), and the parameters of which I had to tell a story through a poem. It’s fun. How much can I say in a short piece? How much character can I give this narrator in so few pages? I guess I’m glad I begrudgingly took that poetry class!
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
Writing has been coming to me slower and slower. I find that I’m dwelling on ideas, phrases, and images for a longer time before I start writing anything out. I just want to know exactly what I want to write about and how I will write it before I start. That said, I think a majority of my final poem drafts are similar to my firsts, just sharper. Or I try to have them be! I’m not much of a note maker for poetry. Once I have dwelled on things long enough, I can work through it by writing the actual poem(s).
4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
A poem begins in the Notes app on my phone. Hard to say what kind of author I am in that regard…a majority of poems I’ve written have been because of building on the poems in Stubble Burn for the creation of Mythical Man, so for the last few years I have been writing poems for a book. But now, I’m writing standalone poems, but they do have common themes so I guess it could be a book I’m working on.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I don’t think readings are part or counter to my creative process. They’re sort of something I just do lol. I wouldn’t say I hate them, but I don’t love them…I think I’m kind of silly up there during readings because that’s how I work through nerves.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
The main question I always try to answer is whether I’m happy with a piece I’ve written. I wouldn’t like to think my work has theoretical concerns (I feel like that just makes it sound so dull and not fun). I just hope the poem makes sense, it’s easy for a reader to follow, and contains the words I wanted it to.
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
To write about things we don’t normally talk about in society and to disrupt current (and old) perceptions of what a poem can be.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
It really depends on my relationship with an outside editor, and whether or not I feel they understand where my work is coming from. I’ve had difficult experiences, but for the most part they’ve been good and essential to pushing my work in better directions. Jim Johnstone is who I worked with on Mythical Man and he absolutely sees me and my poetry for all of its potential and what I want to do with it, so he really pushes me in such constructive ways and I’ve learned a lot from him; not only in terms of my own work, but how I can be a better editor for others. It’s always nice working with an outside editor who not only wants your work to be better, but to help you grow as a writer too.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
There’s no point in stressing over things that you have no control over, focus on what you know you can change.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to journalism)? What do you see as the appeal?
I’ve been writing journalism before I picked up poetry, and I still like moving in between the two because it gives my mind a rest. It’s nice to break up my writing practice as it makes my brain shift gears.
11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I don’t have a solid writing routine as I think having one would make me feel too pressured to stick to it. My sort of semblance of a “routine” would be I guess starting a poem on my phone, most of the time while on public transit, and then when I am home I will then continue the poem on my computer. A writing day for me probably begins the moment I get on a bus and if I’m not reading, then I’m either writing or listening to a podcast!
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Novels. I read novels when I am stalled in my poetry writing for inspiration. Or horror movies.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
Music, primarily pop music, heavily influences my writing! I’m not quite sure on why or how, but when I hear a really good song, I will listen to it on repeat all day (on transit) and write to it. Maybe there is something about how relax music can make me feel and I can just write without any inhibition?
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Eduardo C. Corral’s collection Slow Lightning, poems by Kai Cheng Thom, Adèle Barclay’s books (especially her poem “Rainbow Rock-Climbing Club”), Anton Pooles’ monster poems, and For Your Own Good by Leah Horlick are a few examples of works that are important to where my writing is inspired from.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Go to the Galapagos Islands and see some really old tortoises and marine iguanas.
17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
When I was younger I wanted to be a zoologist, and I am not sure where that goal went. Maybe I realized there was some math work involved at some point? I’d love to work with dinosaur bones in museums (not digging them up). If I weren’t a writer, I’m not sure what I would have ended up doing…
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I’ve always been a creative thinker / writer, and just really found solace in reading lots. I think I just wanted to write to indulge my creativity and do something I just liked to do?
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Last great film: Shame, 2011
20 - What are you currently working on?
Playing with this outline for a novel idea I have, and just writing more poems